Thursday, September 22, 2011

No Thank You, Lhuentsips!

Yesterday evening I was in the BBS studio hoping to exchange views with the panelists on the matter concerning the proposed unlawful construction of the controversial Shingkhar-Gorgan road across the wilderness of the TNP. The set of questions that I wanted to ask could not have been answered by anyone who comprised the panelists. So I didn’t ask a single question. It was a wasted effort.

But as I plodded out of the BBS studio, something stuck me. I, as a member of the Kheng community, may no longer feel ashamed to be belonging to the poorest Dzongkhag in the Kingdom of Bhutan. It is now official - the government has declared it and the most Honorable MPs from Lhuentse have declared it - Lhuentse is now the poorest Dzongkhag in the country. In one stroke, the Shingkhar-Gorgan highway has been downgraded to the status of a farm road while, simultaneously, elevating Zhemgang Dzongkhag one notch up the economic/development ladder.

I am getting serious bad vibes here. Either the government is trying to hoodwink the people of Bhutan or they are totally clueless about the state of affairs in the country that they have been elected to govern.

The drama and theater aside, I strongly object to the government and the Lhuentse MPs usurping the Zhemgang Dzongkhag’s just and factual status as the poorest Dzongkhag in the country. Just because the government wishes to unfairly allocate a huge chunk of public money to do a luxuries by-pass that will enable the people of Lhuentse to get to Thimphu in a hurry, it is not good enough reason to put a blemish on the decades old reputation of my Dzongkhag as the poorest Dzongkhag in the country. That distinction belongs to the Kheng people and, unless the government wakes up and does something to alter that status, the reputation of the poorest Dzongkhag must belong to us Khengpas.

Sorry Lhuentsips, you are not welcome to that enviable status. It belongs to the Khengpas!


  1. So true - this shows how politicians can actually manipulate the facts. As far our record concerns, Zhemgang is considered as the least developed Dzongkhag in the country. And until very recently I didn't know that the fact changed. I am not sure if the record is updated. I am curious to know that. Zhemgang has eight gewogs and if I am not mistaken only three or four gewogs have road connectivity, at least a road nearby. For some villagers, they have walk days to avail medical facilities. Thank god now children no more have to walk miles to appear their common exam as in the past when students carried rations on their backs to appear their exams. As it is pointed out, we are not saying road connectivity in itself is a bad thing, but we need to look at the bigger picture. Farm road passing through the wilderness sounds funny to me as well.
    But it is debatable, yet if the govt. wants to go ahead with their plan, there is hardly any point in debating.

    Good points aue Yeshi.

  2. Talk about MPs playing politics. Any construction in the core zone of the national park is in violation of the Forest & Nature Conservation Act. Where is due process of law here? The procedure is illegal, yet no MP wants to raise it because they want to appease the vote banks in Lhuentse. Quite a different response from the MPs than with the Tobacco Control Act incident, right? BUT, why the difference, if not politics? It is not OK to violate an Act when it suits them, and then they will look the other way if doesn't suit their needs. Rubbish!

    Poverty alleviation of our people should certainly be a priority, but at what cost? And will this really be achieved by this 'farm road'? One can debate it either way. With a road comes shops, workers' camps and other settlement that will eat into the otherwise pristine forest (frankly 'pristine forests' are very less in Bhutan - there's cattle and human disturbance everywhere). The more you infiltrate into wildlife habitat, the more conflicts with wildlife you should expect. Then we will lament about poverty alleviation again when tigers and wild dogs kill cattle.

    What is with the PM's claim that there is insufficient data that this place is biologically important. Who does he need to hear it from, a foreign expert, a McKinsey consultant, the BBC, or will he have some faith in the Bhutanese for a change? Again, go on, build a lousy road with questionable benefit if that is what you think will get you more votes, but PLEASE don't tell the world that the government cares about the environment. This is not a ploy to be used as you please, let's just be true to ourselves. Let's do away with all parks and reserves, then, what is the point? I find the carbon emission reduction argument equally hilarious. Here the problem is intrusion into the core zone of a national park, not global warming. They are equally important concerns, but different. Even if the road does reduce carbon emission as a result (as claimed by supporters) it does not solve the issue of intrusion into prime tiger habitat AND violation of a national Act.

    There's a rumor that the Agriculture minister threatened to resign if the road went ahead as planned - I heard this from a credible senior official. I would believe this to be true - he is a man with integrity. What we need for poverty alleviation is innovation, not a lame-ass excuse of a road with a questionable future. Tourism should come as people coming on luxury treks from Ura to Lhuntse, knowing that they are hiking or riding horses in tiger territory, or on well planned birding trips, homestays involving locals, not Thimphu elites. A bad road will only allow people from Thimphu and those with expensive cars to reach Lhuntse faster. How this will alleviate poverty is to be seen. Bhutan's innovation has stopped at hydropower and roads. We need a new cabinet, seriously. Away with the old ministers who have been around forever. Seriously.

    The highway downgrading to a farm road may be indication of the government rescinding or retracting from the earlier, more adamant stand. That may be a good sign, BUT this is only the beginning, we need a good precedence. Democracy should involve all stakeholders - the government alone does not represent Bhutan.